Karl Rove — the man sometimes referred to as "Bush's Brain," who has helped to guide (and some suggest control) George Bush's political fortunes and persona since 1993 — will step down from his White House post, it was announced early Monday (August 13).
Described as upbeat and cheerful that the president will rebound from near record-low approval ratings (due mostly to public disapproval of the war in Iraq), Rove — White House deputy chief of staff and President Bush's senior adviser — told the Wall Street Journal that he will step aside on August 31.
"I just think it's time," he told the paper, explaining that he and the president first discussed his departure a year ago. And while Rove said he'd decided to stay on for an undetermined period after the poor Republican performance during the 2006 elections (see "It's Official: Democrats Take Over Both Houses Of Congress"), White House senior aides were recently told that if they stayed on past Labor Day of this year, they would be required to remain through the end of Bush's term on January 20, 2009.
"There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family," said Rove, who first began working with Bush 14 years ago during the president's campaign for Texas governor. He has been described by some Washington insiders as one of the most powerful political consultants in modern U.S. history.
President Bush paid homage to his friend of more than 30 years on Monday morning in a brief, emotional press conference. "We've been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends," Bush said, adding that it won't be long before both men will be out of the White House. "I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit." Rove's voice cracked several times during the appearance as he said it has been "the joy and the honor of a lifetime" to serve Bush in the White House and be a "witness to history."
Over the past year Rove has been under scrutiny by a special counsel and congressional Democrats intent on learning about his role in the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, as well as his involvement in the firings of several U.S. attorneys (see "Karl Rove Won't Be Charged In CIA Leak Case, Lawyer Says" and "What Is Executive Privilege And Why Is Bush Threatening To Use It?"). He was also the target of an investigation earlier this year into whether he and other White House aides broke rules of the Presidential Records Act by using Republican National Committee servers to make political presentations to government employees that encouraged them to support Republican candidates.
Rove brushed off suggestions that he was leaving to avoid having to face questions in front of a hostile congressional committee. "I know they'll say that," he told the Journal. "But I'm not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob."
Sometimes referred to as "The Architect" and "Boy Wonder" — and in one case affectionately as "Turd Blossom" by Bush — Rove began his involvement with the Republican Party as a teen. Frequently working out of public view, he helped steer dozens of GOP campaigns over the years while rising to the position of Bush's top political aide, with the official title of deputy White House chief of staff. He is credited with being one of the chief architects of the bitterly contested Florida vote recount in the 2000 presidential election that helped Bush win the White House. Though never proven, he was also alleged to have had ties to the group behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign that challenged the war record of Bush's 2004 presidential opponent, John Kerry; Rove has denied any such involvement. Rove helped Bush win re-election while overseeing a gain in seats in both houses of Congress by the Republican Party (only the second time in history this has occurred).
Often portrayed as a shadowy figure, Rove proved able to poke fun at himself during a Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner earlier this year, when he busted into the character of flow-deficient rapper MC Rove in a clip that became an instant viral phenomenon and favorite of late-night talk shows.
Even with the success of the troop surge in Iraq unclear and a looming presidential election in which most GOP candidates are stepping away from Bush's legacy, Rove predicted a sunny future in his Journal interview. He said that "Iraq will be in a better place" as the surge continues to unfold, further predicting that the Democratic Party will suffer a split over the ongoing controversy surrounding the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Taking a swing at a longtime Bush family rival, Rove also said he thinks Democrats are "likely to nominate a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate," i.e. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, as their presidential candidate.
The New York Times described Rove's prediction of a Republican win in the 2008 presidential election as "the sort of political boasting that had become Mr. Rove's hallmark."